Biostar iDEQ 300G MCE-I review
Small-form-factor (SFF) PCs have come a long way. When PC Pro looked at its first Shuttle in May 2002, the SFF PC was a great idea looking for a use. But nowadays, the primary interest in these tiny chassis has settled somewhere between portable gaming powerhouses and boxes aimed squarely at the lounge. Biostar’s iDEQ 300G would initially seem to be intended for the latter, with an infrared remote control included in the box and a fluorescent display on the front.
But the Biostar is no cut-down media centre PC. Based around Intel’s 915G chipset, it has support for all the latest Socket 775 Pentium 4s, with the seeming exception of Extreme Edition processors. Fitting a 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, the 300G didn’t even reach the BIOS. Switching to a standard Pentium 4 560 running at 3.6GHz resolved the issue.
The motherboard also incorporates a full 16x PCI Express slot instead of the integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900, so it can theoretically support the latest 3D cards. With the Biostar including only a 250W power supply, we doubt an nVidia GeForce 6800 Ultra would work, but we tried a 6800 GT with no problems.
The iDEQ’s biggest innovation, however, is its clamshell design. The entire front of the chassis hinges up 90 degrees, taking the drive bays with it. This gives completely unhindered access to the CPU and two RAM slots. As with most of Biostar’s other iDEQs, the CPU cooler is extremely easy to remove. A hinged fastening arm secures it on one side. It then lifts out easily, revealing the LGA775 socket. The sink itself has no fans attached, but is cooled by an innovative BTX-influenced ducting system taking air from a front fascia fan and leading it to a rear blower. We found this both quiet and effective at keeping the temperature down. However, we do wonder if all the engineering work put into the clamshell design was worth it, as you’re not likely to be switching the CPU in and out of a media centre PC that often.
One thing you won’t need to add is a media card reader, as this is integrated into the front fascia. Alongside the PCI Express slot, there’s a single PCI slot as well. Although no externally facing bay is provided for 3.5in devices, you do get two internal ones for hard disks. These hang underneath the external 5.25in bay on quick-release caddies, with SATA cables routed ready for use. The Biostar isn’t designed for EIDE drives at all, though, as there’s only one channel and the cable is already directed towards the 5.25in bay and attached to a curious device in a riser card. This incorporates the Broadcom gigabit Ethernet socket, plus 5V and 12V DC power outputs. Alongside the SATA data connection on the chassis itself, a proprietary cable is supplied to hook these DC outputs to a SATA power plug, providing connections to external SATA hard disks.
Adding 1GB of Crucial PC3200 DDR SDRAM and a 74GB Western Digital Raptor SATA hard disk, we achieved a very respectable score in our 2D benchmarks of 1.95. There’s clearly no compromise on desktop performance with the Biostar’s pint-sized proportions.
Although the Biostar is aimed at a lounge-type environment, its garish green fascia isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste. However, it does have a number of useful features for leisure usage, including a built-in FM tuner. Some multimedia functions can be operated without booting the OS, including the radio, CD and DVD player, and playback of MP3 collections on CD. These are controlled using the infrared remote, which can also be used to start up the PC.